How did you get into art direction?
Post my course at College of Arts, I was doing a few
freelance assignments. That’s the time I joined
Sabu Cyril as his assistant and slowly I became an art
director. Of late, I am doing more films in Tamil. I
have done around 43 films. In Tamil I have done around
Can you tell us about the films that you have worked
I have done many Malayalam films; Guru being a significant
one starring Mohanlal which went to Oscars till the
‘Best of Five’ category. This film fetched
me a good name and many awards for art direction. I
was involved with Arpudha Theevu, a fantasy film with
dwarves and later Devadoodan. Lastly I did Hariharan
sir’s Pazhassi Raja which also gave me good name
My first film in Tamil was Marumalarchi in which
we had erected a village set which was required to
be set ablaze. CG was not much prevalent then. Due
to FEFSI issue, another art director took over that
film. After Pazhassi Raja came in, I have started
doing Tamil films.
Many people could not make out
that it was Ranganadhan Street
sets in Angadi Theru
worked in Angadi Theru and it was important
that sets should not appear as sets. Many people
could not make out that it was Ranganadhan Street
sets. We made a set in AVM Colony in Saligramam
till 40 feet and further on we extended it through
CG. We all worked harder in Angadi Theru as
we were keen to bring in a realistic look. During
nights, we used to bring all the garbage of
Ranganadhan Street in a lorry and the Onyx people
used to fight with us thinking that we were
the new cleaning agency. This particular set
was quite interesting to me.
I did Irumbu Kottai Murattu Singam, a fantasy
film. I am happy to do fantasy films because
it gives a lot of creative freedom as it gives
the scope to innovate things. Director Simbu
Devan is the pinnacle of creativity. His thoughts
would be terrific which gave good fodder to
my creativity. In IKMS, more than what we had
planned before we went on floors, many things
evolved while we were actually shooting. I enjoyed
working in IKMS which brought me good name.
Director Simbu Devan is the
pinnacle of creativity
Producer walked past the set
and came back looking for it in
I joined Bala sir to do Avan Ivan. His films
are also very realistic and sets should not
be perceived in his works. I erected a set that
showed the residential colony of Vishal and
Arya. On the first day of the shoot, producer
walked past the set and came back looking for
it. That’s when Bala sir said that he
is after all standing in the set. This was a
great achievement for me. It was a great experience
working with Bala sir who has an eye for details
and would work hard to get it.
was called to do Ponnar Shankar which was not
a historical film as there was no reference
to any time period. It was a story that had
a mix of history and imagination. There was
not any authenticity in it.
There was not any authenticity in
Now I have done Shankar sir’s Nanban. Shankar
as everyone knows is very sincere in his work. He would
finalize all the details on table and would never interfere
in your work later. He would discuss about the work
and would get it approved by the producer. He is very
punctual. When he says that he would discuss about a
song sequence on a said date and time, even if you happen
to meet him before that, he would not discuss then but
would do so only on the date and time that was planned
earlier. Once the discussions are over, he would not
touch upon this subject again. It was great working
The research that goes into period films like Pazhassi
Initially a different art director was fixed for Pazhassi
Raja but due to date issues he could not do it and they
came to me. As it is a historical film, I needed some
time to carry out my research. You will get photographic
references for period under last 70 years in the net
and beyond that you need to look at book reference.
Hence I collected references from libraries in Ernakulam,
Trivandrum and other such libraries in Kerala.
You may not get the exact information that you seek
out for. You need to study and derive information.
For example, there may be a mention of a group called
Kurichiyam and their life style and from it we need
to draw out information regarding the materials that
could have been used in that period.
I brought two of the Kurichiya
tribe as my assistants
The Kurichiyars are the tribals who live in
the interior forests of Wayanad. We went to
them to understand about the making and usage
of arrows, their culture and life style. When
they talk about their forefathers, we can roughly
assume about the life in those times and use
the information. We learnt to make the arrows
staying with them and I brought two of them
as my assistants. We understood what kind of
trees were there in that period and after taking
permission from forest authorities brought them
in. In that manner, whatever little things that
could have existed in that period, we have used
them and created the feel.
The most challenging
task in Pazhassi Raja
The Panamara Kottai was the toughest. People might
think that it is the fort made of palm trees. There
is a place in Wayanad called Panamaram which only
has one palm tree. Since they camped in that place,
it began to be called as Panamara Kottai. We searched
for trees called Manchiyam, whose thickness should
be more than 6-7 inches and if it was less than this,
it would look like Casuarina poles on screen. We needed
around 5000 to 6000 such trees. But we were able to
muster only around 200 of them. Hence we waited for
5 months and we brought in those trees in lorries.
Each truck load can carry around 150 trees. Then you
can imagine how many such truck loads we would have
We had put up a set in a place which is an hour’s
travel from Madikeri which is 120 kms from Mysore.
When we were shooting in Karnataka we needed the look
of Wayanad. Palmyra leaves that are 8-9 feet are very
unique to Wayanad and Calicut. You don’t find
such trees anymore and I had given the job of hunting
out for these trees and bringing them to Madikeri.
We did around 13 lorry loads of such Palmyra leaves
to Karnataka. At the check post, officials were amused
by our shifting of Palmyra leaves.
Here I should mention that producer cooperated very
well, otherwise these things could not have been possible.
In such a project, you need to have like minded individuals,
or else it is difficult to achieve.
How did you do the huge statue in Irumbu Kottai
huge statue in Irumbu Kottai Murattu Singam
is a miniature. We did the scaling originally
which would be as tall as 2 feet. We did the
miniature at 9 feet height. We did the skeleton
to the height of the original and marked a place
to look up to. Artists will look up to this
height and speak. We did mild touch up in CG,
gave a little texture which gave an original
The huge statue in Irumbu Kottai
Murattu Singam is a miniature
I travel a lot and when I come across good locales
for shoot, I would keep that in mind. I spotted such
a location which is just 4-5 hours of travel from
Chennai resembling Grand Canyon. Nobody knows about
this place which is in Andhra and I took Simbu Devan
there. Till he saw the location, he never believed
such a place could exist and he heaved a big sigh
on reaching there. When we look down from this place,
there would be a river running down and you would
find rocks of on old world texture. It was an arduous
task to get down and then climb again. Around 120
kms from the river, there is a dam and from there,
there is one more dam in which there are boat services.
We brought the boat through trailer to this dam and
we started believing that artists can be brought to
That’s when I told the director that I have
plans to put up a set for the huge statue. Director
was puzzled as to how I am going to complete the task
when it was so difficult even to bring artists. But
we somehow managed, put up the set, matched the miniature
Instead of dismantling the sets after the shoot, are
there ways to keep them preserved?
No, we can’t do that. For Irumbu Kottai Murattu
Singam, we created the cowboy village set in the Malambuzha
dam area during the time when there was no water.
Once the rain started, we had to make alternate arrangements;
otherwise we are answerable to PWD. The locations
that we get for visuals come with many problems. If
we are shooting in a place belonging to the producer,
we can leave it as such. For a Telugu film, the producer
bought 24 acres of land in which we had created a
village set and left it as such.
Only Mani Ratnam can try out
different artists for bilinguals
working in bilinguals, how do you ensure that
the local flavor is maintained?
it comes to fantasy we try to match both the
situations. Pazhassi Raja is a story that happens
in Kerala, hence no issues. In Guru (not the
Mani Ratnam Guru), it was a fantasy flick that
was set in Harappa, Mohenchadaro time frame.
Generally, when we do bilinguals such issues
would come and we would solve it by changing
a few items within the frame. Usually artists
would be the same (for most parts) in bilinguals;
if there were different artists, it would be
very expensive for the producer. Only Mani sir
can try out different artists for bilinguals.
In Nanban, have you created something different
from the original?
need to adhere to the original for few features
like the boy’s discovery etc. But we made
the college texture different with brick wall.
We made a few changes to suit our flavor. In
3 Idiots, they travelled to Ladakh to shoot
climax, for Nanban we went to Dhanushkodi for
the climax school sequence because it would
be believable. We made a few changes geographically
and worked as per that. We retained the scooter
of the heroine. I made many small gadgets which
you would see in the film like the washing machine
with pedal, trolley that would move in the steps,
solar cycle, battery scooter, plant watering
helmet where you can water the plant just by
looking at the plants and controlling the same.
I have used many small ideas.
For Nanban we went to
Dhanushkodi for the climax
Shankar has painted lorry, bus,
car and many such vehicles with
interesting work in Nanban
sir wanted to paint an entire train. We discussed
many possibilities and you may know that he
has combined with Sabu sir and has painted lorry,
bus, car and many such vehicles (in other films)
and only thing remaining is train. I suggested
plane and he was almost hitting me. Rentals
for train are very high-5 lakhs for 24 hours
and the condition was that we return the train
completely washed. If we were to draw, it would
take half a day to dry and then it was not viable
for shoot after that and return soon. Hence
we decided to stick paper and then paste the
painting on it. We hired some 250 artists from
various states who were well versed in folk
drawings and finished the entire job at breakneck
speed and returned the train in time.
What are the
measures you take for eco conservation while making
The amount of hard work that we put in to create a
set, we work more than that to remove the set completely
from the place. This is one way to protect the environment
from our side. We cannot bring in variation in the
materials that we use to create sets. We can only
use POP or fiber glass. Otherwise we need to use rocks
which are not practically possible.